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Chapter 1: Success Without Struggle
There are only two times I feel stress: day and night.
I was ready to push my limits, to succeed at something I had never done before. That meant boarding the waiting airplane and pushing myself through a cargo door while cruising at 90 miles per hour at 14,000 feet.
I stood at this brink for one reason: I wanted to break through the unfounded terror I harbored about doing a solo jump out of an airplane. It wasn't as if I hadn't tried other boundary-breaking excursions. After all, I did bungee jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and rock climb sheer cliffs. But this was different. I really wanted to challenge myself, based on what I knew I could do -- but the idea sent bolts of stark terror through me.
As I stood there, struggling with my fear, my skydiving instructor sauntered over. "Hi, I'm Billy," he drawled, offering his hand. About forty, with a three-day growth of beard, he wore a T-shirt that said SKYDIVERS: GOOD TO THE LAST DROP.
When Billy asked me if I was scared, I tried to be cool. "No. I'm not really that scared," I said with a shaky voice. Then I let out a nervous giggle. I think Billy saw right through my act and knew how terrified I really was. Undeterred, he went over the safety instructions carefully as we put on our parachutes.
Billy and I joined a group of skydivers as we walked toward the plane. I boarded first, which meant I'd be the last one to jump. This seemed like a great plan while I was on the ground. Unfortunately, I realized that it just gave me more time to imagine what it wouldbe like to plummet toward the earth like a meteor if the parachute didn't open.
As I pondered my fate, the other skydivers crowded into the plane. We sat on the floor in two long rows going from front to back, packed like eggs in a carton. All I could think about was what happened to Humpty Dumpty.
The higher we climbed, the faster my heart beat.
Finally, it was my turn to jump. "Remember," Billy yelled at me over the howling wind, "if you ever start to panic or struggle, just stop, be aware, and resume control." Nodding, I took a deep breath and then shouted out the protocol: "Ready...set...go!" Billy and I jumped out of the plane and into one of the most life-changing events of my life.
Billy stayed with me until we reached five thousand feet. Then he soared away so that we would have enough room to open our parachutes. As soon as I was on my own I heard that familiar nagging voice of fear that tortured me. "What are you doing out here alone?" the voice taunted me. "You're going to screw up. You're going to die!"
All of a sudden I lost focus and stopped arching my body the way I had been instructed. My body flipped, and I started to tumble over and over as I frantically grabbed for the rip cord. But the harder I tried, the more I missed it -- and the closer I fell to the quickly approaching ground.
Then I remembered Billy's words: Stop. Be aware. Resume control. In that moment I stopped struggling. I corrected my position, found the rip cord, and pulled it. Phoomph! A huge multicolored canopy mushroomed above me as I floated gently to earth.
I yelled in triumph as I touched down. I realized that I had overcome my fears and done something I had always dreamed about doing. Not only had I overcome my fear -- I had done it twice. Once before I jumped and once after. I achieved what I came to refer to as Extreme Success, that is, using powerful strategies to dramatically expand my success into new areas. At the same time, I overcame the nearly overpowering sense of struggle that almost prevented me from fulfilling my goal. The rush I then experienced was fantastic. I felt adrenaline pumping through my body and I felt totally alive! I was energized and invigorated. It was an incredible feeling!
I learned an awesome lesson that day. I discovered that struggle doesn't make success happen. In fact, struggle can prevent success from happening.
This is the basis of the energizing philosophy I've adapted for my life -- and the heart of my business. I've learned how to neutralize struggle, redirect fear, and stay focused so that it is possible to achieve greater success. Like me, my clients have learned how to do this. And now so can you.
Struggle: The Syndrome That Keeps On Giving
"C'mon Rich! The harder you work the better you'll be!" This belief was drummed into my head about fifteen years ago, when I was a competitive bodybuilder.
Every night at eleven o'clock, after a day working my full-time job and taking evening college classes, I would go to the gym. In the nearly deserted space I'd strain to lift weights for one more repetition while my workout partner would scream commands like, "No pain, no gain!" in my face like a drill sergeant.
Now, in bodybuilding, that may be true. It is important to put lots of stress on muscles to make them grow. The other lessons I learned, like discipline, focus, and visualizing my goals, also helped me to become more successful in other areas of my life. However, I took on the philosophy that the more I struggled and worked really, really hard, the more successful I would be. My problem was that I got in the habit of applying that philosophy to my entire life.
I also formed the skewed belief that struggle is noble. I thought that the harder I worked, the better a person I would be. Like millions of others, I bought into this counterproductive point of view. As a coach, I've heard it so many times I've coined a term for it: the Struggle Syndrome. Nobody I know embodies it better than my friend Chuck.
No one could ever deny that Chuck works hard. Actually, he'd be the first to agree. He delights in telling people how busy he is, how overworked, how he has no time to live because he is so overloaded. Chuck makes these statements with pride, as if he deserves multiple pats on the back for all the struggle he is putting himself through.
And struggle it certainly is. His office looks like it was arranged by a tornado. Sticky notes cover the computer screen, and to-do memos are taped all over the desk lamp. Piles teeter upon piles. Just trying to get from his office door to his desk is an extreme sport in itself.
Every January for the past several years Chuck has told me, "This is the year I stop chasing my tail. I'm going to be organized and more effective." (As of this writing, it hasn't happened yet.)
Chuck's behavior is anything but unusual. The belief that struggle is an inseparable partner of success is deeply ingrained in our society; it's something I hear from just about all my clients. When I ask them why they feel this way, they usually say, "My parents always told me that if I wanted to make it big I had to work hard. And every time a colleague succeeds, you always hear someone say, 'Wow, he really worked hard for that. He deserves the recognition he's getting.'" They quote from self-help books they've read and seminars they've attended, all of which stress the effort of success and involve breaking through obstacles and making great personal sacrifices on the road to achievement. They believe that the reward for a job well done is more work. Is it any surprise that they usually feel overwhelmed and/or burned out?
Ultimately, they equate success with pain and end up filtering their work -- and their lives -- through the assumption that struggle is inevitable. The result is that other options don't get any consideration. When this happens it's time to remove the struggle filter and look at life through a wide-angle lens that reveals a much bigger picture with many more choices.
So when my clients start to brag about how busy they are, I shock them by saying, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. How would you like your worklife to be?"
This opposing view begins to shift people from their rigid mind-set and helps them approach success in a different way. Then I tell them what I'm telling you: It took a leap out of an airplane for me to understand that struggle isn't only not noble -- it can be life-threatening!
I sum up my strategy like this:
If you seek struggle, you will find it.
If you seek ease, you will find it.
I believe in trusting that things are going to go well. And while I know it's crucial to prepare for the worst, I also expect the best. I realize this is an unconventional outlook, but I know how important it is to be open to the idea that success can happen with joy and ease, not struggle and frustration.
This doesn't mean that I don't believe in challenge. There's nothing I embrace more than the thought of achieving something new that's going to require real effort. What I don't believe is that effort automatically links with struggle, which further links to negativity. All struggle produces is a situation where enjoyment is sucked out of what you're doing -- even if the outcome is successful.
No Pain, All Gain
You don't have to leap out of an airplane and lose control to feel the impact of the Struggle Syndrome. My coaching clients report lots of various Struggle Syndrome symptoms. Having headaches or a tight neck, snapping at coworkers, forgetting appointments, losing things -- these are all struggle signs.
I know when my own struggle bug starts to bite. I clench my jaw, jump from project to project, and build mountains of papers on my desk. Not surprisingly, I become distracted and even frantic. Now, however, when the symptoms first kick in, I can stop them quickly by asking myself, How can I do this with greater ease? Occasionally I do all of the following actions, sometimes just one or two.
- I shift my mind-set from "I have to do this" to "I'm choosing to do this."
- I stand up and take a couple of deep breaths.
- I break what I'm doing into small "chunks."
- I go for a walk.
- I clean up my work space.
- I choose only one project to focus on and "hide" all the others.
- I work on something else and come back to the project when I'm in a better mood and willing to focus on it again.
- I ask for help.
These choices help me to step back, become more alert, and look for a more effective way to accomplish what I'm working on. Once the Struggle Syndrome kicks in I stop, become aware, and resume control.
Isn't it time you gave yourself the permission to succeed with ease, too? It's a much more effective and joyful way to live and work.
Meet my client Lisa, in her mid-thirties, who learned how to succeed with ease. Lisa's personal fitness trainer, whom she saw whenever she was in the San Francisco area for her work, referred her to me.
Before I start to coach, I always send a series of questionnaires to the new client to fill out before our initial meeting. I sent these forms to Lisa, who had just begun a job as a salesperson for a medical supply company in the Midwest.
When asked what main areas she wanted to focus on, Lisa wrote:
- Increase my sales. I want to be the #1 salesperson in my company. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this goal!
- Stop procrastinating! I have so many things I want to do, but I never have the time or energy to complete them. I have so much to do, but I can't keep up with everything. Every time I turn around, there's something else I need to do.
At our first meeting I asked Lisa, "What's the biggest obstacle that might get in your way of becoming the number-one salesperson at your company?"
Lisa said, "Look at the second thing I want to focus on: procrastination! I want to move forward, but it feels like I have too many things just to catch up on. I feel like I'm on overload and about to go into overwhelm."
As a "homework" assignment, I asked Lisa to make a list of all those things that she "had to catch up on." She agreed.
The following week she brought the list. I began our session by saying, "Okay, let's see what you can eliminate or delegate." Lisa was adamant: "I can't! All those things are my responsibility. Anyway, if I try to get someone else to do them they'll probably do them wrong and then I'll have to fix their mistakes. That will take longer than just doing it myself."
"How do you know that they will do them wrong?" I asked.
"I just know it."
But when I said, "Please just trust me on this one. Let's go through the list, okay?" Lisa agreed.
As we began, Lisa was very uncomfortable with the idea of letting go of total control. It was obvious that she assumed that reaching her goal was going to be brutal, because even before the first coaching session, Lisa had set up her own struggling strategies.
She told me about how she had considered working twelve-hour days to "catch up." Of course, that entailed giving up a few things, like not working out at her gym for a few months. Lisa assumed that struggle, in order to achieve her sales goal, was inevitable.
"Lisa," I told her, "as long as you keep telling yourself that what you want to accomplish is going to be hard, it will be. Let's look at a different perspective. What would it be like if you had space in your schedule to focus on what really matters for great sales?"
Lisa didn't say anything for a moment. Then she replied, "Peaceful."
"Great! It can be that way if you tell yourself it will be that way. Are you willing to take on that perspective? I know it's an unconventional way of approaching a goal, but I believe it's really important to be open to it. It's the best way -- the only way -- to bring you success with joy and ease, not struggle and frustration. Look at it this way: If your desire is to ski, why hike up the mountain and wear yourself out when you can take the chairlift?"
Lisa nodded. "I'm willing to try," she said.
Line by line we began to go through her list again. This time, Lisa was much more willing to cross off the not truly vital to-do's. She was also much more willing to take what she called the "risk" of delegating many of the remaining tasks from her list.
From that point on, she began looking for the most effective and enjoyable ways to reach her goal. She hired an assistant to whom she delegated many of her tasks. At the same time, Lisa continued with her workout program and kept her commitment to work no more than nine hours per day.
Throughout this book we'll follow Lisa's story, along with those of several of my other coaching clients. You'll see what happens with Lisa's stress, how she does with her goals, and what happens when she breaks free of the Struggle Syndrome.
Keepers: Thoughts to Remember
- Struggle doesn't make success happen. In fact, struggle can prevent success from happening.
- If you seek struggle, you will find it. If you seek ease, you will find it.
- Learn to stop, be aware, and resume control.
- Notice how you start falling into the Struggle Syndrome. Write down what red flags start flying.
- Decide what you will do when you notice that you're struggling or losing control.
- Write a personal affirmation to help bring you back to grounded effectiveness as you stop, become aware, and resume control.
Action Idea #1: Learn to Work with Ease
- Think about your past week. Write down one way that you made the process of going for your goals harder and less effective.
- Now write down how you could have made the process more effective and enjoyable.
- On the same day each week go through this ritual. Week by week you will develop a stronger ability to avoid the Struggle Syndrome. You'll find that you will become more effective (and happier) as time goes on. If you want to raise your level of awareness even further, begin this ritual by rating how the week was for you on a scale of 1 to 10. (With 10 being very effective, joyful, and struggle-free.)
Copyright © 2002 by Rich Fettke